Ion Probe for Work on Front-Edge Research Issues in Cosmochemistry

Press Release No. 185/2012
27 July 2012
DFG approves funding to the tune of approx. EUR 4.8 million for major new research device

A national laboratory for secondary ion mass spectrometry is to be established at Heidelberg University for work on front-edge geoscientific research issues. For the acquisition of an ultramodern ion probe and to cover attendant infrastructural measures, the German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funding to the tune of approx. EUR 4.8 million in the framework of its Major Research Instrumentation Programme. The new device was requested for projects in the DFG Priority Programme “The First Ten Million Years of the Solar System” (SPP 1385). According to Heidelberg earth scientist Prof. Dr. Mario Trieloff, one of the two coordinators of this programme, there are only about ten of these devices currently in geoscientific research use anywhere in the world.

With spatial resolution in the micrometre range, the ion probe promises supreme precision in isotope dating and the measurement of trace elements in extraterrestrial and terrestrial rocks. “With the results of such investigations we want to contribute to finding an answer to fundamental issues in cosmochemistry,” says Prof. Trieloff, “for example, how and when the first solid bodies formed in the solar system or how small planetesimals developed physically and chemically before they became major planets. But we also hope to achieve new insights in our research on the origins of our own planet. Bearing in mind the conditions prevailing on early Earth, we will be analysing such things as where water comes from and when the earliest minerals and rocks originated on Earth.”

According to Prof. Trieloff the planned laboratory for secondary ion mass spectrometry will be an important research asset facilitating the acquisition of sample material from future “sample return” missions to other celestial bodies for analytic purposes. The delivery and set-up of the ion probe will take between one and two years, after which the major research device at Heidelberg University can be put into operation. In the long term, it will be a national institution of German earth sciences with an international advisory panel from the German Research Foundation watching over its activities. It will largely be used in projects funded by the DFG. Alongside cosmochemistry, it can be used for work on research ventures in geochemistry, isotope geology, climatology, environmental studies and archaeology.

After a successful international evaluation, the DFG-funded Priority Programme “The First Ten Million Years of the Solar System” (SPP 1385) embarked on its second funding period at the beginning of 2012. At present it encompasses 45 research projects at 16 locations in Germany. The scientists involved in SPP 1385 intend to use the analysis of extraterrestrial material to draw conclusions about the process of planet formation 4.5 billion years ago.

Prof. Dr. Mario Trieloff
Institute of Earth Sciences
phone: +49 6221 54-6022

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